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Stark differences on issues mark District 49 race

Two relative newcomers to politics are competing for Nebraska’s District 49 legislative seat.

Fitness club owner Jen Day is challenging incumbent State Senator Andrew La Grone, appointed last year by Gov. Pete Ricketts to serve out the term of John Murante, who was elected state treasurer in 2018.

District 49 encompasses northwest Sarpy County, including Gretna and a portion of La Vista. The Nebraska Legislature is a nonpartisan body, meaning candidates appear on the ballot without regard to party affiliation. However, party affiliation often plays a major role in campaigns.

Republican La Grone is an attorney, Catholic and a member of St. Patrick Parish in Gretna. Day, a Democrat, is listed as Catholic in a Sept. 26 Omaha World-Herald profile of the race. The Catholic Voice was unable to verify a parish affiliation. Day and her husband, Jon, own and operate Artis Strength and Fitness club in Omaha.

La Grone spoke with the Catholic Voice concerning his positions on key issues of concern to Catholics. Day did not respond to several requests for an interview.

ABORTION

La Grone said he is pro-life and opposed to abortion. He was a co-sponsor during the most recent legislative session of both the dismemberment abortion ban which passed and was signed into law Aug. 15 and the abortion pill reversal bill that passed during the previous session in 2019. He is endorsed by Nebraska Right to Life.

“To me, it’s really about hope and opportunity,” La Grone said. “The fundamental promise of America is that, regardless of the circumstances you’re born into, you have a chance to succeed. And I think this is a situation where that couldn’t be more true, that we need to provide that opportunity.

“And if you don’t have that opportunity to live, then you’re not going to have the opportunity for the American dream.”

Day’s response to a statement on nebraskavoterguide.com says that she opposes “legal protection for the life of every preborn child from the moment of conception, unless the mother’s life is at risk.” The same survey states that she supports “giving taxpayer dollars to abortion providers.”

According to her profile on the website of the New Leaders Council Omaha, a training program for progressive young professionals, Day is currently vice president of the Friends of Planned Parenthood board and was co-chair for Planned Parenthood of the Heartland’s annual fundraiser in 2019.

RELIGIOUS FREEDOM

On nebraskavoterguide.com, Day is listed as opposed to a statement regarding religious freedom that reads: “Protect churches, charities, businesses and individuals from government discrimination due to religious or moral convictions regarding marriage, the sanctity of human life, and human sexuality.”

Her New Leaders Council profile states that Day is “a strong advocate for … ending discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community.”

La Grone, who favors protecting the religious freedom of religious institutions, said, “The Supreme Court has been clear on this issue – that religious institutions have the ability to stick to their values as it applies to them.”

La Grone supported the court’s July 8, 2020, decision in Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrisey-Berru that broadened the definition of “ministerial exception” for religious institutions, protecting them further from employee discrimnation lawsuits. The court ruled that the exception applies not only to explicitly ministerial positions but others that involve faith formation duties as well.

SCHOOL CHOICE

According to nebraskavoterguide.com, Day opposes “implement(ing) school choice legislation, such as scholarship tax credits, to give parents more control over their child’s education and choose the best school for their child.”

A Sept. 26 Omaha World-Herald article said, “She called herself a staunch backer of public education and of allocating sufficient money to it.”

“My top priority in the Legislature would be to ensure that our public schools are fully funded and that all children have access to a quality education,” she said in the article.

“I am proud and honored to have earned the recommendation of the Nebraska State Education Association” Day said on her Twitter feed.

La Grone said, “I think we need to give parents the opportunity to send their kids to the school that works best for them.” He supported the Scholarship Tax Credit bill that failed to pass in the previous legislative session, and plans to do so again in the future.

He rejected the view of those who opposed the bill that its passage would endanger funding to public schools.

“There’s nothing that says we can’t do both,” he said. “We can fully fund our public schools and make sure that they are the best public school that we can provide … and still provide other options for parents.”

PUBLIC SAFETY

La Grone identifies public safety as one of his top issues, and opposes efforts to defund law enforcement agencies.

“I think we need to ensure that we are supporting law enforcement during this time and ensure that they have the resources to do their jobs, to be safe … and also that they have the resources they need to keep everyone else safe as well.”

He said he believes law enforcement officials and departments in Nebraska have been proactive in addressing racism and bias within their ranks.

“The vast majority of them have a higher standard … than what state law holds them to,” La Grone said. “And so, I think that we need to recognize the great work they’ve done in trying to hold themselves to that higher standard.”

“I think they are going above and beyond,” he said.

Her New Leaders Council profile states that Day is “passionate about resolving the issues with systemic racism and white supremacy that she believes plague the United States.”

In a Sept. 26 World-Herald article, Day disputed a La Grone campaign brochure describing her as “‘too extreme’ and unwilling to do what’s necessary to keep families safe, saying those charges are inaccurate … .” As a mother of two young sons “… she has every reason to back law enforcement and public safety,” she said in the article.

TAX POLICY

On the Ballotpedia website, Day identified tax policy as one of the state’s greatest challenges over the next decade, saying: “Balancing Nebraska’s tax revenue is going to be important in order to be sure that taxpayer money is being effectively spent and that tax rates are being applied fairly. We need to be sure that we are adequately funding public education while providing property tax relief to those whom are being unfairly burdened.”

In the Sept. 26 World-Herald article she also said, “Additionally, I’d like to find reasonable solutions for property tax relief that don’t put our children’s education at risk. People in LD49 struggle with high property taxes, but also love our public schools. I believe we can provide Nebraskans with meaningful property tax relief while also protecting our children’s futures.”

La Grone said the property tax relief bill passed in August by the Legislature was “a great first step.”

“What it does is provides a refund on your income taxes based on what you pay in property taxes, and so it doesn’t affect school funding at all,” he said.

“I also was supportive of LB1106, which would provide more state aid to schools in exchange for schools dropping their levies.”